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Afghan president: US forces killed 16 civilian

January 25, 2009 8:47:46 AM PST
President Hamid Karzai condemned a U.S. operation he said killed 16 Afghan civilians, while hundreds of villagers denounced the American military during an angry demonstration Sunday. Karzai said the killing of innocent Afghans during U.S. military operations "is strengthening the terrorists."

He also announced that his Ministry of Defense sent Washington a draft technical agreement that seeks to give Afghanistan more oversight over U.S. military operations. The same letter has also been sent to NATO headquarters.

Karzai in recent weeks has increasingly lashed out at his Western backers over the issue of civilian casualties, even as U.S. politicians and a top NATO official have publicly criticized Karzai for the slow pace of progress here.

The back-and-forth comes as the new administration of President Barack Obama must decide whether to support Karzai as he seeks re-election later this year as part of the United States' overall Afghan strategy.

Karzai's latest criticism follows a Saturday raid in Laghman province that the U.S. says killed 15 armed militants, including a woman with an RPG, but that Afghan officials say killed civilians.

Two women and three children were among the 16 dead civilians, Karzai said in a statement.

In Laghman's capital, hundreds of angry demonstrators denounced the U.S. military Sunday and demanded an end to overnight raids.

U.S. military leaders, victims' relatives and Afghan officials - including two top Karzai advisers - met at the governor's compound to discuss the issue, Gov. Latifullah Masr NATO troops and their location carried out only with Afghan government approval.

- Full coordination between Afghan and NATO defense authorities "at the highest possible level for all phases of military and ground operations."

- House searches and detention operations to be carried out only by Afghan security forces.

Civilian deaths are an extremely complicated issue in Afghanistan. Afghan villagers have been known to exaggerate civilian death claims in order to receive more compensation from the U.S. military, and officials have said that insurgents sometimes force villagers to make false death claims.

But the U.S. military has also been known to not fully acknowledge when it killed civilians.

After a battle in August in the village of Azizabad, the U.S.

military at first said no civilians were killed. A day later it said about five died, and eventually a more thorough U.S.

investigation found 33 civilians were killed. The Afghan government and the U.N. said 90 civilians were killed.

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